Pilot program connects VCU Health doctors, first responders in rural Virginia counties amid pandemic

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Emergency medical service crews responding to possible COVID-19 cases in rural Virginia have been communicating with VCU Health emergency medicine physicians through telehealth technology in order to make real-time decisions about the best way to help the patient. The pilot program, which launched last week, is the first of its kind in the state.

The program puts VCU Health doctors in contact with first responders in rural Essex, Westmoreland and Richmond counties, allowing them to evaluate patients while discussing whether it’s best for them to stay at home or come to the hospital.

The aim is to provide service while reducing any chance of additional exposure and lessen the strain on busy EMS agencies and hospitals’ emergency departments during the coronavirus pandemic.

“These efforts will help lessen emergency department surge visit volumes, EMS provider personal protective equipment use, EMS provider exposure time with potential COVID-19 patients, and the time an ambulance is out of service for its community,” Harinder Dhindsa, M.D., associate professor and interim chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine in the VCU School of Medicine, and medical director of VCU Critical Care Transport, said in a statement.

Benjamin Nicholson, M.D., a former flight paramedic with VCU Health and current EMS Fellow with its emergency department, and Lisa Dodd, D.O., an assistant clinical professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine, designed the pilot program. VCU Health has discussed expanding the program to help additional localities in Virginia and patients not with coronavirus symptoms.

Stay with 8News for updates.

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